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View Full Version : It was nighttime, I was moving right along in my Studebaker, and out go the lights....



Iroll
10-01-2014, 02:26 PM
All the while growing up I heard my Dad tell the stories about his 50 Studebaker he had back in the day, and that the headlights would go out. He had all kinds of stories about driving home with a flashlight. Now that I have a 50 Studebaker, I was driving home last night and the headlights went dark on me! I was really scared when this happened. It could have been a really bad situation. After about 15 seconds they popped back on. So now I have a new issue to resolve. Where do I begin to fix this? I assume there is a fuse which needs to be checked for clean terminals, and from the pictures I have seen I believe it is located on the actual headlight switch itself? Is this correct?

j.byrd
10-01-2014, 02:36 PM
Iroll, the only time any of my cars did this, it was the headlight dimmer switch ! Might try that.

wolfie
10-01-2014, 02:45 PM
I dont think it is a fuse as such. Others here have dealt with this problem successfully and will give better advice. I have personally never had the dimmer switch cause this issue, usually they either die altogether or on one side (IE high beam or low beam). I am leaning towards an inline relay being what gives up but again not 100% sure without searching. Steve

8E45E
10-01-2014, 02:48 PM
After about 15 seconds they popped back on. So now I have a new issue to resolve. Where do I begin to fix this?

Did you hear a slight 'click' when they went out? They are protected by a circuit breaker, where they will come back on after a few seconds. I would look for a short which would most likely explain why the circuit breaker tripped.

Craig

BobPalma
10-01-2014, 02:51 PM
Circuit breakers are also subjected to age-induced failure, so don't hesitate to replace yours if everything else checks out OK.

First, though, look for good grounds everywhere; poor or intermittent grounds will cause circuits to overheat and trip the breakers. :cool: BP

jimmijim8
10-01-2014, 02:57 PM
Mine went out due to a faulty dimmer switch. cheers jimmijim

Iroll
10-01-2014, 03:37 PM
Did you hear a slight 'click' when they went out? They are protected by a circuit breaker, where they will come back on after a few seconds. I would look for a short which would most likely explain why the circuit breaker tripped.

Craig

I didn't notice a click sound, but that could be due to the shear panic that instantly set in of not being able to see anything while doing 45mph...


For those that had the issue be the dimmer switch, did the lights go in and out, or did they just stop working all together?

Where is the circuit breaker for the headlight switch? Is it in the switch itself or is there a relay for it?

Where are the grounding points located in the headlight circuit?

warrlaw1
10-01-2014, 03:47 PM
What Craig said. The circuit breaker is in the light switch, itself, on my 55. It will reset after a while. Hunting down a circuit problem usually starts at the dimmer switch as it is easily accessible and if you have power there, your problem is then between the dimmer switch and the lights. Then it's ground chasing.

StudeRich
10-01-2014, 04:18 PM
What happens is too much resistance builds up in the Terminals exposed to dirt, water and moisture UNDER the floor on a '50 or even on top of the floor on a '62 and Newer, and or high resistance in the Dimmer Switch, this causes the 20 AMP Circuit Breaker to trip and in a few seconds it will reset.

Sure there could be other high resistance points, like Headlight Terminals, Headlight Switch Terminals, old wires, etc. but the above is the MOST common from my 50 years experience.

On Newer Cars with 12 Volt systems using modern Halogen Headlights, it is a MUST to change to a 30 AMP Breaker, or use a Low amperage relay circuit to turn the Headlights on instead of the Headlight Switch.

rstrasser
10-01-2014, 04:51 PM
Time for electricity 101. If you increase the resistance in a circuit you decrease the current draw. I=E/R I being current, E being voltage and R being resistance.
I will not hazard a guess as to why the lights went out as it could be many things from a defective circuit breaker to a short in the old cloth wiring. Time to check the circuit from one end to the other
Ron

skyway
10-01-2014, 06:16 PM
"Time to check the circuit from one end to the other"

Yes it is.

On my '41 Commander they kept going out and staying out. I'd disassemble the headlight switch, clean up the contacts, smear a bit of dialectic grease, and reassemble. After about the third time, I looked further and found that the cloth covered wire to the license plate light was shorting at the trunk lid hinge. Fixed the short and problem solved!

raoul5788
10-01-2014, 06:24 PM
My headlights went out one night due to a faulty light switch.

j.byrd
10-01-2014, 07:56 PM
Iroll, on our car, when the lights flickered, then went out, my wife was driving on a very narrow windy road out the backside of Hickory Hollow Mall in Nashville, Tn. back in 1986. She screamed "oh #%@***** , what do I do now ?" I told her slowing down would be the 1st thing I'd do, then hit the dimmer to see if Hi-Beam worked. It did, so she drove home that way. It would come back on both hi and low beam after I sprayed cleaner in the switch and cycled it a few times, but we decided it wasn't worth the chance, so I changed it. Never happened again in that or any other car. Oh, and I drive lots of Lucas infected vehicles too, ha !

JoeHall
10-01-2014, 09:10 PM
Faulty light switch or dimmer switch, either one will trip the CB. I had that experience in the 62GT many years ago, at about 70 MPH, while cutting through the mountains between Utah and Arizona, about 1 AM, pitch dark. IIRC it was the switch that time, but have also experienced same with dimmer switch in another Stude.

I also had the same experience in the late 1960s with a 56J, and learned if I left the headlights on dim, it would not happen. That was as far as I got in troubleshooting it back then.

altair
10-01-2014, 09:56 PM
All the while growing up I heard my Dad tell the stories about his 50 Studebaker he had back in the day, and that the headlights would go out. He had all kinds of stories about driving home with a flashlight. Now that I have a 50 Studebaker, I was driving home last night and the headlights went dark on me! I was really scared when this happened. It could have been a really bad situation. After about 15 seconds they popped back on. So now I have a new issue to resolve. Where do I begin to fix this? I assume there is a fuse which needs to be checked for clean terminals, and from the pictures I have seen I believe it is located on the actual headlight switch itself? Is this correct?
Handy cheap insurance is to carry a pair of alligator clips

jclary
10-01-2014, 10:29 PM
Well...if it were a fuse, the lights never would have come back on. I have a bunch of light switches in my "stash." Some have the traditional old glass fuses. Some have the rectangular circuit breakers. I have worked with some old school electricians who referred to circuit breakers as "heaters." They are bi-metal strips that distort and bend as they heat up. When they get hot enough, they break the circuit. When they cool back down, the contacts come together again and restore the circuit.

One electrician, I had great respect for, once told me that anytime a circuit breaker trips, it weakens. The more often it trips, the weaker it gets. His practice was to repair anything that caused a breaker to trip...and then replace the breaker. This guy was in charge of a huge manufacturing plant. He was responsible for maintaining micro-processor controlled delicate equipment, on up to huge smash mouth stamping machines including some motors the size of compact cars.

While you are under the dash, looking for the circuit breaker, take time to closely examine your wires. It is possible that some wires have lost their insulation and are close enough to others to make contact by vibration due to hitting a bump in the road. Also, could be that some accessory has been added to a circuit to push it above the load rated for the breaker.

As our cars age, pass from owner to owner, and mechanic to mechanic...it's a wonder they work as well as they do.

Andy R.
10-02-2014, 12:17 AM
Iroll, the only time any of my cars did this, it was the headlight dimmer switch ! Might try that.

+1 for my Wagonaire. 10:30PM. Mid curve on Hwy 1, a few hundred feet above the ocean. Amazing what detail of the road ahead your mind remembers about trajectory/speed/distance/time when you think that is your last conscious moment on earth. New dimmer switch cured that.

RadioRoy
10-02-2014, 05:01 PM
I told her slowing down would be the 1st thing I'd do,

Very tactful of you. :)

I will add another vote for the dimmer switch. That's what it was on my 60 Lark.

The wires on the 50 are rubber coated, cloth covered. The insulation gets brittle, so don't bend the wires when replacing the switch.

Iroll
10-03-2014, 08:46 AM
I did a very unscientific test last evening. I went for a short drive at dusk with the headlights on, and with the dimmer switch on lowbeam. I believe it was on high beam when the lights cut out the other day. This time they stayed on. It was a very short drive, maybe 2 miles, but it does make me think the dimmer certainly can be the issue. I have already ordered a new one, and I am going to order a new headlight switch as well. I will do some investigative work on the wirings condition, and do some circuit testing in time, but for now I intend on replacing the 2 switches and seeing what happens. I did find this info below on the web while searching this issue, and it has a very good labeled image of the switch. A lot of what is said concurs with the dimmer switch being the issue, as many of you said above. I figured it would be good to add this info to help the next guy facing a similar problem. It was located on a webring posting at stude.com:


Subject: Can you rebuild a headlight switch/breaker??

From: dcat917@aol.com (DaveCarter) Date: 11/09/2000 20:14 Pacific Standard Time
I commute to work in my 50SLC and with the time zone change, now I'm coming home in the dark. So I need headlights, and what happens is if I run high beams for over 15 minutes the circuit breaker blows. When I touch the light switch, it's warm but not hot like a short would be. I go to low beam and they come back on. Has to be a current thing. I have a new wiring harness but the switches are still original.
1. Can I rebuild the switch or breaker (#526350& #522014)?
2. When I pull the switch out for testing, what kind of resistance should I be seeing? From: tcherry3@aol.com (TCherry3) Date: 11/09/2000 20:40 Pacific Standard Time
>>> 2. When I pull the switch out for testing, what kind of resistance should I >be seeing?"
Dave, you should see little or no resistance across the switch if you see some you already found the problem! also the way the circuit breakers work is a bimetal strip and what happens is over time and through many duty cycles the metals start reacting at different temperatures so they go off easier. one thing i would look for is bad ground connections on the bulbs (not just headlight) as that builds resistance into the circuit and thus creates more heat to send your circuit breaker into a tizzy. good luck, hawkrod
From: "Terry & Mary Brandli" avanti@triton.net Date: 11/09/2000 21:11 Pacific Standard Time
What do you have in it for headlights? How good is the generator charging. A long time ago I put a pair of aircraft landing lights in one of my Larks. When I turned the brights on it looked almost like daylight untill the breaker would turn the headlights off. I tried it with just one aircraft light but if I turned the radio and heater fan on the headlights would still go out after awhile. I'd add a bigger battery and or a higher amp generator if the switch, breaker, voltage regulator etc. check out ok. Do you have higher wattage headlights in it then original or anything else that might be adding to the total power drain when the headlights are turned on. Does the ammeter show charge or discharge when the brights are turned on? Terry [ the babbling short circuit] Brandli
From: rkapteyn@mcs.net (r.kapteyn) Date: 11/10/2000 05:03 Pacific Standard Time
The headlight switches on the 1950 cars were marginal. Many burned out and that is why they are hard to find. The best way is to install a headlight relay. This will relieve the current thru the switch. This goes for all Studebakers. Headlight switches are rebuildable and I used to do this. I had bought a number of other switches to rob the parts out of. If your head light switch still works,save it by installing a relay. You should also install a new breaker. These are available. I can not understand why 12 volt and 6 volt breakers are different. They act on current and not voltage. The same breakers are still used on other equipment and I believe they are still current manufacture.R.Kapteyn , Joliet Studebaker Service.
From: toolboy56@my-deja.com Date: 11/10/2000 05:35 Pacific Standard Time
>>> I can not understand why 12 volt and 6 volt breakers are different.
I'd venture to guess that the 12V breakers have a lower current rating in an attempt to shut down on a short more quickly as a 60W 12V bulb will draw half as many amps as a 60W 6V bulb just a guess nate

From: toolboy56@my-deja.com Date: Sat, 11 Nov 2000 13:04:30 GMT
> Do I really need that special tool the manual calls out (Switch Nut Wrench J-4252) to pull thelighting switch?
Dave, All that tool is is a piece of tubing with two prongs to fit in the slots of the bezel nut - the round chrome thing on the face of the dash. That simply unscrews like any other nut. Whether you need the tool or not depends on how tight the nut is - I needed it on my car but you might not. You still could probably make one if you had access to some steel tubing and a bench grinder and/or milling machine. I tried to be lazy and buy the Eastwood bezel nut tool, that didn't work, both ends are the wrong size :( nate
From: toolboy56@my-deja.com Date: Sat, 11 Nov 2000 13:04:30 GMT
I have had a bit of trouble with very old dimmer switches. Sometimes a marginal dimmer switch with not-always-the-best of contact can add some of it's own quirks to further confuse the trouble shooting. Until I replaced it, the dimmer in my Hawk would every once in a while cut off the hadlights. If I went hi lo hi lo hi lo several times, they would come back and stay on for quite a while after that. Sometimes the floor switch would feel warm to the touch. When I put in a new floor dimmer switch, the problem went away.
From David Levesque
Your dash switch may indeed have problems, but if you put in a new floor switch also, you may have fewer troubles to contend with. When I put Halogens in my truck, I wired the headlights through relays the same way you would with a newer foglight/driving light installation. My headlight switch and dimmer are no longer asked to carry a heavy load. All they do is switch the relays. The power line to the relays now carries all the heavy headlight current.
I did the same thing with the lights going back to the rear also. I have THREE turn signal and brake lights (FOUR bulbs each side plus the front) on each side of my truck, and I can even hook up a trailer with multiple turn lights without the flasher going nuts. The blinking is even, no matter how many lights are hooked up.
For anyone towing trailers, it is a good idea to run the rear lights thru relays because it keeps the lights bright, the flasher at a steady speed, and it keeps the turn signal switch from burning the contacts. Good luck D L Vote Liberty Vote Freedom
_____Can someone help me connect the dots. I've put together an image of a shot of the light switch and an excerpt from the wiring diagram for the Headlight switch. I'v tried to reconcile the two by following the wiring diagram but I'm not sure on most of the connections.
1. What do the P N T symbols mean. Are they legends for the wire gauge and color or do they mean Postive Negative T????
2. Can anyone help me connect the dots? Dave Carter
___From Jeffrey Dewitt
When I was in Asheville for the TriState Meet in September I went for a ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway at about 1 AM. There was no moon that night, and that mountain road gets VERY dark. Gus has halogen lights because I like to SEE at night. I guess the extra current draw of the halogen lights was to much for the 40 year old circuit breaker and the lights went out, which got quite exciting! A new circuit breaker seems to have solved the problem. Jeff DeWitt
From: John Poulos avanti@erols.com Date: Sun, 12 Nov 2000 21:55:09 -0500
I have a couple of idea's:
1. Bad circuit breaker.(trips at say 20 amps instead of 30)
2. High resistance in the headlamp circuit causing higher than normal voltage drop and a larger current draw.
3. Low battery voltage.
4. A short circuit.
5. bad dimmer switch
From: Studeman Studeman@triad.rr.com Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2000 04:50:52 GMT
Dave, First: Be sure you have very good GROUNDS - for your headlights and taillights. Coroded grounds produce very high resistance and that will cause the breaker to trip. Clean all terminals and mounting screws. Use white grease (lithium) on all connectors- to prevent furthur corrosion.
Terminal "B" is the terminal where power comes to the switch from the back of the ammeter.
Terminal "A" is from "B", through the circuit-breaker, and into the switch itself (see the brass strap?).
Terminal "P" is where your green wire is- it goes to the headlight terminal blocks
Terminal "H" has the Red/Blk tracer wire is- it goes to the dimmer switch
Terminal "T" should have a Black w/yel tracer wire- these go to the taillights, and the instrument light (switch) Ray
I would remove nuts "A, B", and install a new 6V circuit breaker.- this is the most likely culprit.
Figure 1
http://www.stude.com/FAQ/Questions/HeadLightSwitch/LightSwitch.jpg
From: dave carter dcat@psd.symbol.com Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2000 08:15:34 -0800
Thanks Ray & John, so A & B are the breaker, No, I don't see the brass strap, the brown material under the terminal is the phenolythic board and non-conductive. Shouldn't I be seeing something on terminal A, nothing is attached???
From: Studeman Studeman@triad.rr.com Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2000 04:50:52 GMT
Dave,There should be a visible solid metal connection between the "A" terminal and a terminal inside the body of the switch. See the photo below....I said brass... but it was just that some look like brass. This one looks more silvery....Yes, I know this isn't the same as your headlight switch, but it is the same "electrically"....Ray

jclary
10-03-2014, 09:56 AM
Very timely that you began this thread. It is one of the subjects we need to re-visit often. Besides the aggravation of loosing lights, it is of a life threatening magnitude on several levels. In the last thirty, or so, years...I have seen reports of several serious (some mysterious) fires that burned up vintage car collections, the building/garage housing them and adjacent properties. If you notice the pic showing the wiring on that light switch, it is evident of how close the wires are to one another. Although this particular picture shows modern insulation, imagine one with old brittle decaying frayed cloth covered wire. Once that insulation is compromised, all it takes is one peeing mouse, vibration from a passing truck/train, or any of a series of unknown circumstances to cause an arc or short, and suddenly the wires glow red hot like a coil on your kitchen stove.

One other item to mention...Is to keep in place the little sheet metal guard that protects the dimmer switch. I've seen them removed. I have also seen some attempt to improve them by closing them in for better protection. However, closing them in will usually lead to holding moisture and create more of a hazard. That little piece of tin protects the switch from having water forced into it "at speed." But, it is also open enough to allow it to air dry. Those old floor dimmer and starter switches are probably the most rugged and heavy duty switches ever built. But, even they don't last forever.

Again, this is a timely discussion that, as these cars continue to age, needs serious attention. Many of these cars are being passed on to a new generation. Decaying electrical components are as serious as leaking fuel. Both, require constant vigilance. Those, new to the hobby, need to be made aware of the hazards, and us old-timers need reminding.

Pat Dilling
10-03-2014, 02:51 PM
+1 for my Wagonaire. 10:30PM. Mid curve on Hwy 1, a few hundred feet above the ocean. Amazing what detail of the road ahead your mind remembers about trajectory/speed/distance/time when you think that is your last conscious moment on earth. New dimmer switch cured that.

Dimmer switch +2, or at least the wires connected to the switch. When I switched to high beams it blew the fuse. (not Stude wiring) Happened to me at 65 mph on I-80 coming back to Reno from the drag races in Fernley Nevada during Hot August nights. Very dark desert, curvy mountain road, but no traffic. Fortunately my buddy following me realized what happened and quickly passed me so I could see to pull over. Changed the fuse then took the 50-50 chance I was on low beams (I had hit the button several times) and turned the lights on and it was OK on low beam. Later I found the high beam wiring to the switch had shorted against the foil insulation around the switch and wiring. Glad you were able to deal with it safely.

jkphoto58
12-17-2014, 10:13 AM
thank you thank you thank you so much my headlights were out on my 47 commander and I was ready to pull out the wiring and redo it but I saw your post about the dimmer switch and I went out to the car and pushed down a couple of times on the switch and lo and behold my headlights are working perfectly. Again thank you so very much.

bezhawk
12-17-2014, 10:25 AM
Often people rewire 6 volt cars with too skinny a gauge wiring like it's a 12 volt car. Remember 6 volt systems take much heavier gauge wiring in every system.

Commander Eddie
12-17-2014, 10:43 AM
Well now, wouldn't you know it. I am glad this post resurfaced.
I stopped at a Subway sandwich shop last night on my way home from work. When I got back into my '61 Champ truck the lights would not come on. I tried turning the headlight switch on and off several times with no affect. Finally, I pulled the switch out (on), and took a moment to put the transmission back into neutral thinking I would be shutting the engine down and suddenly the lights came on.
I drove home, and on the way hit the dimmer switch when I got to the dark back roads leading to my home. I encountered a oncoming car and hit the dimmer switch again to lower my beams. The lights went out momentarily and then came back on. I decided to leave the dimmer switch alone. Just before reaching home my lights flashed to high beam then back to low.
When I started the truck this morning the lights would not come on immediately again. I pulled out the switch and waited. After about 2 seconds they came on. They blinked once on the way to work but were steady otherwise.
I happen to have a spare headlight switch in the glove box. Maybe I should replace the dimmer switch instead.

sochocki
12-17-2014, 04:17 PM
Why does it seem like these lights go out when driving at high speeds through the mountains or on curvy backroads? Why can't they go out during the daytime, when you can see where you are going, LOL? ;)